The consumption of this drug was involved in almost 29 per cent of the 63,632 fentanyl deaths from overdoses of opiates in the United States during the year 2017.
Fentanyl deaths, the new epidemic that infects Mexico
Mexican authorities remain on alert since 2017 when 63 kilograms of fentanyl, a drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine, were confiscated on the border with the United States. Its presence in the country would indicate that the drug cartels in Mexico traffic in it.
More alarming data from the National Center for Health Statistics of the United States, indicate that the consumption of this drug was involved in almost 29 per cent of the 63,632 fentanyl deaths from overdoses.
Estimates from the Drug Control Administration (DEA) warn that with one kilogram of powdered fentanyl one million milligram tablets can be produced, which are traded on the black market between 10 and 20 dollars each, with profits for the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco Nuevo Generación, organizations identified as the main distributors of this drug, of around 20 million dollars, around business taking into account that its production cost does not exceed two thousand dollars.
In Mexico there are no statistics on how many people consume this opiate or the fentanyl deaths associated with its use, however, recent reports from the Federal Police indicate that from 2016 until last January, the entities where most have been insured shipments of this drug they are Baja California Sur, Mexico City and Sonora, and assurances have also been made in Chihuahua and Puebla.
The drug can be trafficked in liquid form and in ampoules, but it is in the form of pills the most common way, so the volume of seizure in the last four years has reached 52 thousand pills of fentanyl, with only 19 people arrested.
This drug is a powerful synthetic analgesic opioid, similar to morphine, but up to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug of category II, and is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery.
Fentanyl is known medically for its legal prescription as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze, however, in the black market this drug combined with cocaine or heroin is known as Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT and Tango and Cash.
Fentanyl is administered by injection, transdermal patch or pills. However, mixing with other substances in clandestine laboratories is added to blotting paper, mixed or replaced by heroin, or as tablets that mimic other less potent opioids, and is ingested, inhaled or injected. They can also put blotting paper for fentanyl to be absorbed through the mucous membrane, say medical authorities.
This is where big drug cartels enter, with connections in Asia and the United States (main consumer of drugs) for distribution by sea, through couriers or with the so-called mules.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that criminal organizations in Mexico and China traffic fentanyl as raw material or mixed with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, on the black market in the United States.
Last December, the Federal Police detected in the mayor's office of Azcapotzalco a clandestine laboratory dedicated to the production of fentanyl and arrested four people. While the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), under the UN, warned about the growing trafficking of fentanyl and heroin from Mexico to the United States, whose consumption has already been listed as a public health issue.
In its 2017 report, this agency reports that there are indications that Mexico is being used as a redirection point for fentanyl from China, warning that the seizures of the US Customs and Border Protection Office went from one kilogram in 2013 to approximately 200 kilograms in 2016.
In addition, it warns of prescription drugs falsified with fentanyl, such as Carfentanil and other analogues that pose a serious threat of overdose and alarmingly encourage the loss of life.
This situation led the authorities of the United States in 2017 to finance the first National Conference of Forensic Chemistry of Fentanyl in Mexico City with funds from the Mérida Initiative. At that meeting, Alberto Elías Beltrán, in his capacity as the PGR office manager, today the Attorney General's Office, stated that given its low price, potency and immediate effect, coupled with consumers not knowing what they are consuming, overdoses related to fentanyl they are increasing alarmingly.
"The popularity of fentanyl is due to the power, the effect and the cost: it is much cheaper and, therefore, around business for the delinquents, because they do not have to plant and harvest (as in the case of the poppy), only process it in a laboratory, "he said.
Authorities from the United States and Mexico warn that one of the problems in detecting this traffic is that many laboratories have official sanitary permits and registers to produce it, a legal loophole that Mexican cartels take advantage of since they migrated to the business.
Just last Friday, in Baja California, the Regional Security Division of the Federal Police detained a man carrying a ton of crystal, but also fentanyl and heroin pills.
The suspect carried at least 14 plastic bags with 14,000 pills containing a substance that was apparently fentanyl.
The detainee was heading to the Tijuana border when he was arrested.
Health personnel hooked up on fentanyl
Addictions center in Mexicali rehabilitates a doctor and two nurses from fentanyl addiction
Being the fentanyl substance commonly used and easily accessible in hospitals, medical personnel choose to use it as a stress reliever, due to their strenuous working hours, but it becomes an addiction, warned Ernesto Zúñiga, general director of the addictions center. Mission San Carlos, of Mexicali, Baja California.
The Secretary of Health in the State, Guillermo Trejo Dozal, acknowledged that within the guild that represents there are cases of addiction to this substance, although at a slight incidence that does not cause alarm.
The issue has been maintained since the death of a nurse at a public hospital last month as a result of an overdose of the substance that is used daily in the operating rooms and that is a controlled medication is used as a drug that relaxes.
The director of the addiction center Mission San Carlos said that the use of fentanyl is highly controlled and monitored by doctors from different hospitals. "The person who is in the medical part may be what you are looking for is to be able to continue working; normally, those who have direct access are anesthesiologists and those who are tempted to fall into this type of addiction. "
He commented that a doctor and two nurses from the public sector have been treated in the addiction and mental health professional clinic Misión San Carlos for their addiction to fentanyl, where they were given timely care to get out of their illness.
"What the Organization of the United Nations tells us is that addictions are a disease, only now what worries is that it is the same doctor who has access," said Ernesto Zúñiga, who pointed out that although prevention campaigns already exist, these should be intensified, even within the public health sector, so that citizens in all areas are aware of the danger of using this type of drug.
"The key is to insist on prevention, maybe we do not get deeply into those cases because they are health areas, I'm sure the protocols in the hospitals there are," he said.
Chihuahua also has a problem with the substance fentanyl, but illegal entry, as its arrival in pills or powder was in evidence since January, when federal authorities seized boxes of drugs from the Mexico City airport. Hong Kong and China, whose destination was a domicile in Delicias city.
The growing number of deaths from fentanyl in the United States and Canada, coupled with the power of Mexican criminal groups that have gradually taken over these markets, had aroused the concern of the Mexican government, but now it is a reality.
Just a few days ago in Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, a fentanyl laboratory was dismantled, and on Tuesday in the city of Mexicali, the arrest of a 29-year-old man with 120 pills of the chemical occurred.
Since W2016, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid substance produced in laboratories, replaced heroin as the main drug responsible for overdose deaths in the United States.
The chemist Lizeth Olivas Castillo said that although its use is in anaesthesia, a small dose is highly addictive.
"This substance is 40 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more deadly than morphine. Often its use is sublingual, so it is more powerful than if it were taken with water, even a dose will make you much more addicted, he said.
"Relatively it is very easy to get it, a vial, I have found that it is sold on social networks or online, but it is expensive, the side effects are highly dangerous".
"The great challenge for the authorities is that it is very easy to process, anyone with knowledge in chemistry can make pills," he said.